Tmesis: How Ned Flanders and Snoop Dogg Changed English

By ALTA Linguist, Wesley Cook.

We are all familiar with prefixes and suffixes in the English language, but there is a third “fix” that is rarely discussed: the infix. An infix is a part of speech that is inserted between the syllable boundaries of an existing word, such as, say, a-whole-nother thing. It’s rare for an English word to have an infix; however, they are common in Austronesian languages such as Tagalog and German. Linguists refer to the most common type of English infix as Tmesis.

In English, there are two general categories where infixes are used: chemical terminology and colloquial language. In chemical terminology, the letters for certain compounds are often placed into the center of another word. But we are far more likely to come across the second variety, and that is largely due to the influence of popular culture icons such as Snoop Dogg and Ned Flanders.

Like Shakespeare before him (I exaggerate), American hip-hop artist, Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr (aka Snoop Dogg) has introduced many new words to the English language. Several of those words use tmesis. Here are just a few of my personal favorites: Hizouse, Crizazy, Shiznit, and 40 ouncizzles.

Ned Flanders, Homer’s straight-laced neighbor in The Simpsons, and another sensei of slang for American popular culture, has also broadened the reach of tmesis with his trademark use of “diddly”, as in hi-diddly-do neighbor, and well-diddly-elcome.

There is also another commonly-used linguistic cousin of tmesis in English. Some of the examples here might be offensive, so if your reading this blog post out loud near any children, earmuffs might be in order. The use of a curse word as an infix used to be the primary way that English speakers used tmesis, before the pioneers Flanders and Dogg came on the scene. Common examples of this are unfuckingbelievable and fanfuckingtastic. Because with unfuckingbelievable, the insertion is not an affix, but an actual word, linguists felt the need to differentiate between traditional tmesis and what they call expletive infixation.

If you can think of other good examples of English tmesis or expletive infixation, feel free to drop a comment!

  • Karl
    Posted at 16:30h, 09 November Reply

    What’s the technical linguistic term for when we exemplify a word by changing parts out with expletives? Similar to fan-fucking-tastic, btu I am specifically thinking of rediculous changing to recockulous. This seems like it would be a different class of infix.

  • Wesley
    Posted at 14:11h, 10 November Reply

    Yes, you are correct; however, what you’re talking about isn’t necessarily infixation at all. Tmesis and infixation generally involve lexical insertions between compound words or syllable boundaries within a word.
    What you’re doing is playing a semantics game based on the arbitrary sound of a consonant. The linguistic process going on here would be closer to “protologism”.
    Basically, it’s the combination of the words “neologism” and “prototype”. One example, while maintaining the root use of the word “rediculous” is “re-dunk-ulous”. Redunkulous would be the expression of one’s dismay after dropping your cell phone into a cup of coffee. Another would be “Dee-licious” if one were referring to the attractiveness of someone named “Dee”. It’s the replacement of a syllable with an actual word to demonstrate a concept in a witty way.
    That’s my “guess-timation”.

  • Gordo
    Posted at 21:15h, 03 January Reply

    So.., what decides where we’re allowed to put the infix? Fan-fucking-tastic sounds sensible, but fanta-fucking-stick is just silly.

    A linguistics prof explained this in a class years ago, but I can’t remember the explanation.

  • Max
    Posted at 06:15h, 04 January Reply

    How about “absofuckinglutely” which can be a great response to a question such as; “Do you agree?”

  • Ryan
    Posted at 15:49h, 05 January Reply

    Gordo: My linguistics prof explained that the infix has to come directly before the stressed syllable in the word.

  • kaye
    Posted at 07:09h, 06 January Reply

    This is the stuff epic is made of…

    Congrats on the intelligent review of such a silly part of our language.

    My room mate says recockuless, it pisses me off.

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